The document that follows is the first and last written report made by Doctor John Carver Randall during his 1927 expedition to explore the multiverse.
Editor's Note: The document that follows is the first and last written report made by Doctor John Carver Randall — the inventor of the aetheric oscillation detector, and father of modern multiverse theory — during his 1927 expedition to explore the multiverse. It is also the last confirmed communication of any type to originate from his party, having been written on the eve of their disappearance.
Although this report is largely a summary of a larger, comprehensive report that was never produced, the data it contains helped lay the foundations of multiversal cartography, in the form of the Randall Catalogue — the first systematic documentation and description of other universes within our multiverse. My intent in producing this edited and annotated version is to make this groundbreaking work more accessible to the modern reader, while preserving its historical and scientific worth. — L. Rowe
To Marshal Landen Petersen, the Director of Anthropological and Archeological Missions,1
I hope this missive finds you well. Indeed, I hope it finds you at all. I am writing this report from within a fourth-level branch universe inhabited by a rather curious species of ambulatory pastry, which I have tentatively identified as a kind of danish. (They are docile, delicious, and devoid of any self-preservation instincts.) However, due to the great magnitude of separation between this branch and the mainline, I have had to resort to using thaumaturgy to ensure this report arrives in your mailbox. If it happens to hiss, growl, or begin rapidly vibrating while you read it, I urge you to consult an exorcist immediately.
For ease of reference, I have divided this report into the following sections: the Survey of Three Portlands; the Investigation of JCR-038; the Study of the Mettryns; the Encounter with the Thule; and an Assessment of Our Current Situation and Future Plans. For the sake of brevity, I have omitted descriptions of otherwise unnotable universes from the main body of this report; the attached catalogue2 contains brief descriptions of all universes we encountered, as well as several we learned of indirectly.
Survey of Three Portlands
Three Portlands was chosen as the starting point for the expedition due to a combination of factors, all of which made it an ideal candidate from which to launch our search for second-level branches: the number and spatial distribution of its connections to the mainline; its physical and metaphysical similarity to the mainline; its topological stability; and the amount of existing data and documentation regarding it.
On the first day of the expedition3 we set about attempting to perform a complete survey of all Ways terminating or originating in Three Portlands. By the end of the third day, it had become blindingly obvious that accomplishing such a task within a reasonable period of time would require more manpower than we possessed4. The decision was made to narrow our survey to only those Ways originating in Three Portlands that had a strongly negative flux of aspect radiation, a phenomena that I had previously theorized would be indicative of Ways between a lower level branch and a higher level one5. Even with this narrowed scope, it would take another two weeks for us to complete our survey. In this time, we found forty-three Ways that matched our criteria. Twelve of these Ways would later be ruled out as false positives, and an additional five would collapse before they could be explored.
It was during this time that Eichel6 began experiencing severe insomnia, which necessitated consultation with a local apothecary. He prescribed a tea of camomile leaves mixed with essential oil of lavender, which proved effective in treating Eichel's sleeplessness.
Investigation of JCR-0387
The remainder of the third week was spent making preparations for our descent into the second-level branches. We selected a Way located in the Shadow of the Portland Observatory8 as the target of our first expedition, in the hopes that the topological anchoring provided by the lighthouse would extend to the Way, or even into the branch universe beyond it.
Not wanting to risk the entire party at the first venture, I decided that only three people would enter the Way for this initial investigation. In what would become our standard procedure for exploring unknown Ways, I (or in later cases, one of the other thaumaturges) would lead the vanguard party into the Way. The remaining two thaumaturges would perform what workings they could to stabilize the Way and prevent it from closing9 — until and unless it was confirmed that the Way could be opened from the other side. The rest of the party would only follow us into the Way if and when it was determined to be safe to do so.
The first second-level branch universe we explored, which I have designated JCR-038 in the attached catalogue, has a topology that is both stable and consistent with the mainline's. (In retrospect, this was a rather fortuitous occurrence. Not all universes possess such an amicable topology, and exploration of those that do not is both challenging and perilous.) However, its geometry is highly unusual.
The Way from Three Portlands to JCR-038 opens into the center of a large, empty plaza. This plaza is located in the middle of what can only be called a city, although it resembles no city that has ever been built or that ever will be built by man. Its architecture and layout can only be described as confused. Buildings appear to have been randomly assembled from pieces of other buildings, with no apparent pattern or reason; few, if any, of these buildings form complete structures. One building I observed incorporated aspects of Neoclassical, Oriental, Gothic, and Aztec architecture into its design. It also completely lacked a ground floor.
However, this bizarre jumble of architecture is not the most interesting or unusual aspect of JCR-038. (Indeed, after having seen similar, although usually more coherent, occurrences of mixed architecture in many other branch universes, I would almost describe this as normal.)
There are many doors within JCR-038, but in all our time there we never found one that would become open. That is not to say that these doors were all locked, or otherwise unable to be opened. Rather, while it is possible to perform the physical action that corresponds to opening a door, this will not cause the doors in JCR-038 to become open. If this statement sounds like so much nonsense, then it is only because human language is not well equipped to describe this phenomena.
Allow me to use the analogy of a bucket of infinite volume. This bucket has a finite width, length, and depth, but due to a quirk of its topology, it has an infinite volume. If this bucket were filled with an infinite quantity of water, it would be possible to upend this bucket to try to empty it of water, while still leaving it completely filled. So too, it is possible to open a door in JCR-038, while still having the door remain closed.
To one attempting to open a door in JCR-038, the door appears to swing outwards until approximately thirty degrees, at which point it "falls" back to approximately minus thirty degrees (in reality, there is no apparent motion during this transition) and continues to swing outwards until the door is closed. To an outside observer, the door does not appear to move at all. I can present no satisfactory explanation for this phenomena, except perhaps as a perceptual or conceptual deception.
We spent a week exploring JCR-038, mapping approximately nine square miles of the city. During this time, we failed to encounter any other life, nor did we discover any Ways other than the one that brought us there.
Study of the Mettryns
We returned to Three Portlands on the thirtieth day of the expedition, where we replenished our supplies and prepared to explore the next second-level branch. Having confirmed the existence of second-level branches, we now began to discuss the option of focusing our efforts on finding higher level branches. On the recommendation of Simonides10, we decided to perform only cursory surveys of later second-level branches in-order to prioritize efforts to find a Way to a third-level branch, leaving more in-depth studies to future expeditions.
Over the next two weeks, we would explore ten more universes. Of particular note was JCR-047, a universe with only two spatial dimensions and the topology of a Moebius strip.
It is difficult to describe the experience of being a three-dimensional figure embedded in a two-dimensional space. At any one time, only a cross-section of one's body is manifest on the surface of the universe and capable of interacting with it. The rest of one's body remains outside and "above" the universe, although terms such as above and below have little meaning outside of conventional space. The closest analogy I can think of to describe it is that of standing above a shallow pool of water and dipping one's finger into it to interact with objects floating on the surface. Such an analogy fails to fully and properly convey this sensation, for unlike the shallow pool, it is impossible to observe any part of JCR-047 that one is not currently intersecting.
Perhaps the most surprising feature of being embedded in a two-dimensional universe is how easily the human body adapts to becoming hyperspatial. Despite the obvious impossibility of drawing oxygen from a cross-section of the lungs, none of us found ourselves in need of breath. And it was the same with other bodily functions. I suspect that we were somehow drawing sustenance from the unspace that surrounds the universe. Or perhaps we simply did not need to breathe because we did not actually exist within JCR-047, except for the small cross-sections of ourselves.
JCR-047 is, to our initial shock, inhabited. The native denizens are complex geometric curves constructed from simple patterns repeated recursively and, I believe, infinitely11. These beings are capable of communicating through a form of telepathy, although we were unable to determine the exact mechanism during our time in JCR-047.
Our first encounter with the Mettryns, as they call themselves, triggered a theological crisis within their civilization. To a two-dimensional being, a three-dimensional figure is an impossibility that borders on the incomprehensible. It is unsurprising, then, that there were those among the Mettryns who viewed us as gods, a notion that we had difficulty disabusing them of.
When it became clear that the Mettryns could not be convinced of our lack of divinity, we decided that it would be best to play along, under the assumption that beneficent deities would be received more favorably than eldritch explorers. Travers12 was able to convince the Mettryns that we were lesser members of their pantheon, come to make an accounting of Mettryn civilization, which we would take back to our celestial home to recount to the rest of the gods. Personally, I had difficulty expecting anyone to believe such fanciful nonsense, but the Mettryns were easily swayed.
We spent three days among the Mettryns, during which we learned a great deal about their culture and history, far more than can be detailed here. I have included the entirety of my notes regarding them in an appendix to this report, although I suspect that they shall pale in comparison to Travers' writings. At her own request, she remained on JCR-047 in-order to study the Mettryns further. We plan to rendezvous with her again four weeks from the time of this writing, on our next return to Three Portlands13.
Encounter with the Thule
Of the many things that we learned during our stay with the Mettryns, the most important was the discovery of a Way to a third-level branch universe, designated JCR-050 in the catalogue. JCR-050 is largely unremarkable, being devoid of native life and possessing no highly unusual topology. The entire universe consists of a plane (which I estimate to be perhaps sixteen kilometers across on each side) of constantly shifting color. If one walks to the edge of this plane, it is possible to cross over to the underside, which is almost identical to the top. Gravity seems to point towards the ground at all times, regardless of which side of the plane one is on.
However, in addition to being the first third-level branch we discovered, it bears mentioning for two reasons; it is a multiversal nexus, containing the endpoints for dozens of Ways, and it is where we encountered the Thule Society14.
Because of the number of Ways that terminated in JCR-050, we had decided to establish a temporary base of operations there. We had already been there for two days when the Thule arrived, to our mutual surprise. The Thule party comprised seven individuals, four of them thaumaturges, under the command of Kord Weiss15.
According to Kord, his party had set out two weeks after our own departure, with a similar intent to explore and catalogue the multiverse. Beyond that, he was recalcitrant in revealing any further information, deflecting questions about his expedition and declining our offer to exchange survey data. From what little information I was able to elicit from him, I was able to infer that the Thule expedition performs only cursory surveys of each new universe they encounter. Given this, I suspect that they are looking for a specific branch universe, and that their true purpose is archeological in nature, not cartographic.
The Thule departed JCR-050 the next morning in great haste, leaving no hint of their future plans or intentions. I believe that they were worried about us following them, a thought which I must admit I had entertained, if only briefly. However, I decided against it, instead electing to remain in JCR-050 to continue our own survey efforts.
We remained in JCR-050 for two weeks, during which we explored over a dozen connected branches.
Assessment of Our Current Situation and Future Plans
We are currently on our sixty-third day of the expedition, during which we have catalogued thirty-five branch universes and explored up to five levels beyond the mainline. It has been twenty days since we last left Three Portlands, but we have enough provisions to continue for at least four more weeks. Everyone remains in good spirits and health, save for Eichel, whose insomnia has worsened as we've continued to venture deeper into the multiverse. I can only guess that it is a side-effect of multiversal travel, possibly caused by the great amount of aspect radiation flux which we have encountered16.
At this time, we plan to continue exploring deeper into the multiverse until we have reached the limits of our provisions, at which point we will return to Three Portlands to resupply, rendezvousing with Travers on the trip back. It is our intention to continue our exploration for another two or three months after resupplying, with the possibility of one or more additional resupply trips during that time.
I shall write again on our return to Three Portlands.
Editor's Note: Obviously, neither Randall nor his party made the return trip to Three Portlands.
But what, exactly, happened to them?
Three months after Randall missed his scheduled check in — a span deemed long enough that temporal desynchronization was unlikely to be at fault — a search party was assembled, headed by Sir Robert Durant of the British Occult Service. Relying on Randall's catalogue of universes and the traces of microbacklash left from the workings the expedition had used to open Ways, the search team was able to retrace Randall's path as far as JCR-063.
At this point, the trail ran cold. Although there were indications that a Way out of JCR-063 had been opened by Randall's party, Durant's team were unable to replicate the working — the Way had collapsed, making it impossible to follow any further without knowing exactly where they had gone.
In his after action report, Durant described two possible outcomes that he believed could have befallen the Randall party. The first, and the one considered most likely by scholarly consensus, is that the party became trapped in a low-level branch universe after their Way out collapsed. Durant estimated that in such an event the expedition could have survived for as long a month and a half, depending on how they rationed their provisions.
There are, of course, problems with this theory, not least of which was the fact that the party counted three highly-skilled thaumaturges among its number, any one of whom could have performed a working to send a psychic distress message. This, and other issues, led Durant to propose a second theory: sabotage.
Durant suggested that the expedition could have been attacked and killed by the Thule Society expedition. Randall had suspected that they were secretly engaged in an archeological mission — might it have been possible that his team had unwittingly stumbled upon the Thule's prize, leading them to kill him?
Although there is no evidence to the contrary, there is also little evidence to support this suspicion — for that is what it is. There was nothing to suggest that the Way in JCR-063 was artificially collapsed, and based on the exit Way the Thule took out of JCR-050, it's unlikely they ever crossed paths with Randall's expedition again.
Based on my own investigations, I have a theory of my own. As observed by Randall, and confirmed by later expeditions, branch universes do not generate their own reality, instead drawing it from the mainline. The lower one goes in the branches, the less real they become, displaying greater divergence from the mainline. I believe that in their quest to probe as deep into the multiverse as possible, the Randall party inadvertently exited reality, disappearing into a conceptual unspace. That is to say, they quite literally vanished. When exactly this happened is hard to say, but by my calculations they likely never got farther than a seventh- or eighth-level branch.
However it happened, one thing is certain — Doctor John Carver Randall and his party will likely never be seen again. — L. Rowe